Gotham Gazette Fri, 05 Mar 2021 11:05:10 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) Ferries Will Play an Even More Important Role in the Pandemic’s Aftermath welcomes ceremony bk

NYC Ferry program could become more important (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

There’s no doubt we’ll see changes in almost every facet of our daily lives after the coronavirus pandemic, but perhaps none will be as dramatic as the answers to the question of how New Yorkers will move safely around the city, including in our travels back-and-forth to work. Studies show that even if we drastically reimagine our economy, roughly two-thirds of employees -- at the very least -- will still need to commute, and the subways have been the lifeblood of the city for a century. 

The subway system will remain the lifeblood of our city, and will undoubtedly adapt as best it can to new standards of safety and health in New York. But a quiet transportation revolution has been taking place in recent years that has altered thousands of commutes by taking advantage of one of our city’s greatest attributes, which can also help during our coronavirus-altered reality.

That revolution is the resurgence of our waterways and the robust and resilient ferry service that has come along with it. All up and down the East River and other points in Brooklyn with NYC Ferry, and to New Jersey and up the Hudson River with New York Waterway, ferries have been providing safe, efficient, and convenient trips for millions of commuters. NYC Ferry alone, in three short years of operation, has served almost 20 million riders.

As COVID-19 continues to change the fundamentals of human interaction, it’s become clear that these ferries provide a trip that is also far safer and healthier than other modes of transportation, largely because of their design and the federal rules that ferries operate under, which ultimately allow for more social distancing. The continuous monitoring of public spaces, by crew that today are wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) and undergoing daily temperature checks, are able to provide a more thorough upkeep and cleaning of the commuter space compared to what can be done on other modes of public transit.

Ferries are also flexible in a way that the subways and buses are not, from the vessels themselves to ferry networks as a whole. To begin, ferries have open upper decks, providing outdoor space. Riders aren’t hunkered down in a dark tunnel while on a ferry. Open decks mean fresh air (every day) and sunshine (most days). And there is enough room for everyone to stay safely apart. On NYC Ferry, for example, there are 165 seats on boats with a capacity for 149 passengers. That means even if the boat is 100-percent full, there are empty seats – seats that act as a buffer between passengers, in addition there is ample standing room indoors and on the outer decks. Same goes for the larger 349-passenger vessels.

Similarly, ferry systems can provide flexibility and ease of implementation that other transit systems lack. New routes can be added without the cost or disruption of building new subway tunnels, and vessels can be interchanged with relatively little disruption to meet demand. Due to anticipated budget cuts, overnight Staten Island Ferry service is expected to be scaled back, but essential workers will still require an affordable and convenient method of transportation. The smaller vessels operated by NYC Ferry, which is already set to expand to Staten Island later this year, could effectively and efficiently replace the overnight Staten Island Ferry service at the current overnight ridership demand, until the budget and demand allow a return to regular overnight operations.

The boats can also be re-configured to have more room for bicycles, which will likely be used even more after the pandemic subsides as commuters stay off the subway and look to other ways to commute.

On NYC Ferry, there are ADA-accessible, full-service restrooms that allow passengers to wash their hands. And hand-sanitizer stations are installed on all vessels along with notices to remind riders about CDC-recommended precautions individuals can take to stop the spread of germs. 

At the end of the day, New Yorkers will need all the mass transit options they can get, including ferry service, which is relatively simple and efficient to scale up as we conform to what will likely be new social distancing norms for the foreseeable future. The waterfront’s role will continue to grow, but now with a sense of spatial necessity. But perhaps that greatest value ferries can provide? Each passenger on a ferry is one less passenger on a subway and in this new reality, when it comes to space, it’s quality over quantity.

Thomas J. Grech is President & CEO of the Queens Chamber of Commerce. On Twitter @QueensChamber.

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Ferries Will Play an Even More Important Role in the Pandemic’s Aftermath Wed, 29 Apr 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Plummeting Ridership But No Budget Cuts or Fare Increases for De Blasio's Ferry System covid 19 climate

Mayor de Blasio aboard the ferry (photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayoral Photo Office)

The coronavirus pandemic has led to plummeting ridership across the city’s various transit systems, posing an existential threat to the future of mass transit as the state and the city begin to cut costs and service. Among them, the New York City ferry, a signature initiative of Mayor Bill de Blasio, has seen far fewer commuters and a reduced schedule, but unlike a long list of other programs, the city does not plan to decrease its budget or scrap an expansion that is slated to take place this year and next year.

Since Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the “New York PAUSE” order on March 20, mandating that non-essential workers stay at home, the ferry has seen ridership fall by 90%, according to NYC Ferry data. From March 20-April 16, only 39,913 people rode the ferry, compared to 365,233 riders over the same time last year.

From March 23, the system began a reduced schedule, using its smallest boats, and its spring service has been cut by 37%.

Mayor de Blasio recently released his $89.3 billion executive budget, cutting proposed spending by $6 billion and tapping $4 billion in reserves to cover a shortfall in tax revenue caused by the coronavirus recession. The budget included billions in savings, including spending cuts and readjustments for lower-than-expected costs. Among those were cuts to bike lanes, lower spending on the Fair Fares program that provides half-priced MetroCards to low-income commuters. But the ferry system’s budget is not expected to change – it’s funded through the New York City Economic Development Corporation – and the fare is also expected to remain the same, according to EDC spokesperson Chris Singleton.

The rollout of NYC Ferry, as the city-run network is called, has not been without its controversies. When he launched it in May 2017, de Blasio touted it as a new mass transit alternative in a city where neglected subways and buses were struggling to efficiently transport millions of daily commuters.

But the ferry system, now with 21 stops, mostly on either side of the East River, has had a minimal impact, serving a relatively small slice of New Yorkers, and faced ongoing questions about its efficacy and financing. Despite being called a transit project, it was placed under the auspices of NYC EDC, adding to questions of whether it was meant as a vehicle to get people around or to drive up real estate prices and spur economic growth along the city’s waterfronts.

As the fiscal watchdog group Citizens Budget Commission noted in a report last year, the subsidy for each ferry ride was $10.73, ten times that of the New York City Transit system. It has since fallen to $9.34, and is projected to decrease with the two new routes adding about 2.5 million riders per year, according to EDC. The mayor has, however, struggled to justify those subsidies, particularly after data showed that only about 5.6 million people used the ferry in an entire year, when more than that number rode the subway every day (in the pre-coronavirus world). A majority of ferry commuters also tended to be white, upper-income New Yorkers rather than low-income commuters of color.

Ironically, New Yorkers from middle- and low-income communities of color are also less likely to be working from home during the pandemic and many make up the corps of essential workers keeping the city running via its subway and buses, hospitals, grocery stores, and more. Essential workers are also faced with often-overcrowded subways given that the state-run MTA has severely cut service amid plummeting ridership, a sickened workforce, and severe financial strain.

The mayor’s office did not respond to requests for comment for this article about the NYC Ferry system amid the coronavirus public health and fiscal crises. “New Yorkers have been doing their part to stop the spread of COVID-19 by staying home and practicing social distancing. These necessary steps by individuals across the city has led to a decrease in ridership on NYC Ferry,” said EDC’s Singleton. “As a result, NYC Ferry has been operating on a reduced schedule since Monday, March 23. NYC Ferry will continue to serve critical workers who must travel, but we ask that at this time people do not ride for recreation.”

At his daily coronavirus briefing on April 29, when asked by a reporter why NYC Ferry funding remained stable while significant cuts were made to the Staten Island Ferry, Mayor de Blasio said, "One there will be cuts to NYC Ferry and that will certainly be reflected in the next stage of the budget process. Two – obviously, it's never fun to talk about any cuts, but everything that has to be cut will be cut as we deal with more and more challenges."

NYC Ferry’s net operating costs were about $52.9 million in the 2019 fiscal year, up from $30 million in fiscal year 2017, and has since increased further, with added costs to come once new routes are launched.

Unlike other transit systems, NYC Ferry doesn’t rely on fares as a major part of its revenue. In the 2019 fiscal year, only 24% of its revenue came from fares, an increase of 2% from the year before, according to an analysis by Citizens Budget Commission. Each ride on the ferry costs $2.75, the same as a standard bus or subway fare, though it isn’t integrated with those systems. Despite the roughly $10 per ride subsidy to operate the system as it has been, de Blasio has insisted from the start on pegging the fare to that of the subway and bus, and said the city has been working on fare integration with the MTA, though several years in there has been no news on such a partnership.

The expansion of the program at a cost of $100 million in capital funds is also expected to drive those subsidies up. One route connecting to Staten Island is launching this year, and another to Coney Island will launch next year, while other routes will be extended and modified. The two new routes are meant to add 2.5 million riders each year, the EDC projects, and will cost about $25.5 million annually to operate. According to the CBC report, the subsidy on each ride on the Coney Island route is expected to be as high as $24.75.

Sean Campion, senior research associate at CBC, who authored the report, said the coronavirus offers an opportunity for the city to review how it funds and operates NYC Ferry and to find ways to make it financially sustainable. “This should give them some opportunity to review some of the sort of inherent inefficiencies in the program,” he said.

“It may no longer be possible, given everything else going on, to maintain the level of subsidy than with a better structure than it has,” he added.

The ferry is also heavily reliant on leisure ridership, Campion pointed out, and that may not recover quickly. “If people are more reluctant to ride public transit and take discretionary transit trips,” he said, “...if tourism doesn't come back, it could take longer for that to bounce back more so than the commuting patterns. If that happens, that will magnify the need for subsidy.”

In the new coronavirus reality, there’s a flip side to the ferry discussion, however. With the subways crowded, increasing the risk of exposure to the coronavirus, even critics of the ferry system may reluctantly embrace it.

“Given that the subways are not a great way of commuting while adhering to physical distance and guidelines, New Yorkers need all the alternatives they can get,” said Joe Cutrufo, communications director for Transportation Alternatives, an advocacy group.

But Cutrufo remains critical of the already high subsidies, noting that the city hasn’t been as generous when it comes to the Citi Bike program. “Our bike-share system does not have a public subsidy and we've seen bicycle use as one of the very few ways that people can get around while maintaining those physical distancing guidelines,” he said. “So I think we need to take a fresh look at how the city subsidizes its transportation network.”

Advocates like Cutrufo are hoping that when life in the city moves back toward ‘normal’ fear of the coronavirus doesn’t lead to an increase in cars on the road as people avoid public transit, which would further clog the city’s typically crowded streets.

“The way we see it, people are looking to alternatives and we want to make sure that we don't see driving increase,” Cutrufo said. “The ferry can be part of that solution.”

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note - this article has been corrected to note that the overall per-ride ferry subsidy is expected to decrease, not increase. 

Note - this article has been updated with comments made by the mayor on April 29. 

Plummeting Ridership But No Budget Cuts or Fare Increases for De Blasio's Ferry System Thu, 23 Apr 2020 04:00:00 +0000
We Want a Ferry for Coney Island, But Not Like This ferry dock site

The planned Coney Island ferry landing site (photo by the author)

Coney Islanders asked for a ferry. Instead the City is providing the community with a deadly toxic brew of lead, dioxin, mercury, PCBs, and pesticides.

At a February 12 Brooklyn Community Board 13 meeting, the New York City Economic Development Corporation made the surprise announcement that the originally proposed ferry dock at West 33rd Street on Gravesend Bay had been replaced by a new site in Kaiser Park that, when constructed, will destroy the single most environmentally sensitive and vulnerable area in all of Coney Island. 

The Kaiser Park site on Coney Island Creek requires an extensive dredging project in the narrow channel adjacent to Calvert Vaux Park, the former industrial dump and landfill that is known to contain long-buried toxic materials. The City's Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), revealed that core samples drilled last fall at the channel found that "sediments in the eastern dredging area contain contaminants of concern exceeding Class C thresholds, including thresholds for arsenic, lead, mercury, pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls [PCBs], and dioxin, which can be associated with chronic and potentially acute toxicity to aquatic life."

Class C is deadly, and the effect of these carcinogens on humans was glossed over in the EIS. Construction and operation of the ferry dock will bring these toxins to the surface. The EIS only covers impact caused during construction and ignores future impact to the community after project completion. Kaiser Park is being sacrificed.

These disturbing findings have not deterred the City's choice of the Kaiser Park fishing pier site. It turns out that the final Coney Island ferry site was not "decided by science," as officials promised. Thousands of people who signed petitions requesting a ferry were not told it would be located in Kaiser Park — they believed it would be on the ocean side.

The City's plan to move the dock to a vulnerable restored estuarine habitat with a small pier and a beach used by school children for marine education, and for kayaking and fishing, was apparently made long before the Environmental Impact Statement was released in late January 2020. The City's report describes construction impact, but not the long-term impact to the community, public parks, or the environment after completion of the project. The report also neglects to analyze the impact on Kaiser Park from automobile and foot traffic for the ferry. 

Kaiser Park is the Central Park of Coney Island, a neighborhood refuge for playing and picnicking. The EIS compiled a list of the ferry's negative impacts to the park including noise: "adverse impact at Kaiser Park is unavoidable...and that no feasible and practical mitigation measures have been found." Noise and pollution impacts at the park caused by the ferry's diesel engines are being ignored.

The EDC downplays the effects of the dredging project, claiming that it will be handled in a "safe" manner, with the toxic materials removed using "Best Management Practices" for hazardous waste removal. Hazardous material removal is never perfect, and the larger problem is that buried contaminants and chemicals can migrate and leach from the adjacent sediments along Calvert Vaux Park into the low point of the newly dredged channel.

Ferries docking and turning in the narrow channel will stir up other toxins now buried under a cap of clean sand that covers the creek's bottom. No cleanup of the entire creek bottom, or mitigation of any kind for that matter, has been proposed or cited by the City's EIS report. Several years ago, hazardous material removal and remediation in a small area of Calvert Vaux Park for construction of soccer fields cost the City millions of dollars. Similar hazardous materials remain buried alongside the narrow channel that will require constant dredging for the ferry.

Of the two contested sites, the West 33rd Street site had much to recommend it. It's a straight shot from Gravesend Bay to the dock, avoiding the need to enter Coney Island Creek and according to the EIS, "does not require dredging restrictions or special handling." The 33rd Street site called for a pier with "public amenities" including benches and access for fishing. This location would have provided needed community benefits but was rejected.

EDC officials said the 33rd Street site was too exposed for a ferry, but this isn't true. The site is similar to the Bay Ridge ferry dock, which has similar exposed orientation. Skanska Construction, the multinational marine construction company building the City's ferry docks, has the engineering ability to construct any kind of dock in any kind of environment. The City just doesn't want to spend the money to do this project the right way, a decision that will prove more expensive in the long run, while jeopardizing the health of the surrounding community for years to come.

The endangered Kaiser Park location has come a long way. When I was growing up in Coney Island in the 1950s and 1960s this site was one of the most polluted parts of the creek, downwind from a now-closed sanitation department incinerator and across from the once active dump that is now Calvert Vaux Park. During the last 25 years, the site has been restored with sand dunes, native plants, a new shoreline, and a horseshoe crab spawning beach. This location is used as an outdoor schoolroom by environmental groups including the Coastal Classroom, Billion Oyster Project, New York State Marine Education Association, Coney Island Beautification Project, Coney Island History Project, and Partnerships for Parks.

Kaiser Park provides the safest public access to Coney Island Creek, a place to conduct research, monitor horseshoe crabs, and launch rowboats, kayaks, and underwater robotics. Future stewards of Coney Island Creek, mostly youth of color from the neighborhood, are being denied their classroom.

The pier and adjacent sand bar are also known as the best fishing spot for a local community of subsistence anglers. Fish caught at this location – striped bass, bluefish, and albacore – are coming from the ocean and considered safer to eat than the fish that live in the creek. All educational and recreational activities will be forced to end with the construction of the ferry dock.

The remote ferry location has made few residents happy. The amusement businesses in central Coney Island lobbied for years for an oceanfront ferry only to have it placed in the West End, far from their businesses. West End residents have expressed valid concerns about the impacts caused by thousands of seasonal visitors being stranded in their neighborhood without a viable means of transportation to or from the ferry dock. A temporary jitney has been proposed but seems impractical.

Many in the community feel the dock sites were chosen to serve the newly constructed high-rises located three blocks away. The City has offered no mitigation or increased enforcement to protect the public parks and environmentally sensitive areas surrounding the dock.

The ferry has also been touted as a "commuter line" benefitting NYCHA residents, but it actually doubles the fare to Manhattan, as most passengers would have to take the subway from the Wall Street terminal and pay an additional fare because there is no free transfer. When questioned about tourists and visitors using the ferry to get to Coney Island attractions, an EDC ferry official told me that "they'll take it once" before realizing that it's not for them.

Most New York City ferry docks are located in former industrial areas attached to hard bulkheads. Coney Island will be the only dock located at a small beach where people are now swimming, fishing, and boating. It's the only ferry line that will transit an extremely narrow channel with inherent navigational risks. The mouth of Coney Island Creek is in constant transition with drifting sands from beach nourishment on the ocean side. The proposed ferry dock at Kaiser Park fishing pier will expose the surrounding community to toxic materials in the air and water unless mitigation is implemented.

Last summer local residents held a demonstration at Kaiser Park after hearing a rumor that the City was planning to move the dock from 33rd Street to the Kaiser Park fishing pier. Officials from the EDC and Skanska Construction vehemently denied the rumors. Seventy-five local residents, most living on West 33rd Street, signed a petition demanding that the City not build the dock at the fishing pier, contradicting the City's insistence that most locals did not want the dock at West 33rd. At a February 2020 community board meeting, EDC officials could not answer a simple question of when the final decision had been made to move the dock to Kaiser Park.

The only concession made by EDC officials so far is a promise to make repairs to the fishing pier that the ferry dock will be attached to, actually a required repair as the pier is falling apart and has been condemned in the past. The representative claimed at the February meeting that people will still be able to fish there, and that the ferry would not disrupt anything. But a more truthful Skanska representative told me last July that "people will be able to fish there but they won't be catching anything."

A false narrative is being circulated, implying that community members concerned about negative impacts at Kaiser Park do not want a Coney Island ferry. Nothing is further from the truth. Coney Island desperately needs a ferry, but the project has to be done right.

This project requires an independent impact assessment, as well as remediation and mitigation to protect the long-term health and well being of the community and the Coney Island Creek estuary. These issues must be addressed before construction begins.

It’s not too late to make your voice heard, too: written comments concerning this project will be accepted until 5 p.m. on Monday, March 16.

Charles Denson is Executive Director of the Coney Island History Project, and author of the book “Coney Island: Lost and Found.”

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We Want a Ferry for Coney Island, But Not Like This Wed, 11 Mar 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Assessing Alicia Glen's Impact on the City's Physical Landscape - Part II: 'Chunky and Funky' mbdb ferry

Alicia Glen cristens a ferry (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)

This is part two of a two-part series on former Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development Alicia Glen's impact on the "built environment" of New York City. Jump to part one here.

Part one of this series focused on Glen's style and leadership broadly, as well as her legacy on housing, including the de Blasio administration's massive affordable housing plan, neighborhood rezonings, public housing, and more. This part deals with economic development, transit, and more.

‘Chunky and Funky,’ Utilizing City Space and Expanding the Transit Network
In spearheading economic development, the other half of her former title, Glen put her preference for “mixed-use” into practice, creating what she calls “chunky and funky” buildings.

“Maybe because I’m a little chunky and funky, I like to sort of think about the built environment in my own physique,” she joked. Unlike the traditional supertalls that have sprouted in Hudson Yards, for example, her approach involves different types of architecture to create new developments that can house offices, light manufacturing, retail and commercial space. In a very de Blasio lens, she’s also focused on utilizing publicly-owned land.

A prime example is Dock 72 at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, a 675,000-square-foot building being developed by Boston Properties and Rudin Development. 

“I think that as we started to get much more serious about growing the five-borough economy, I really wanted to think about what that would look like being respectful of and being able to experiment with different kinds of building typologies and the way in which neighborhoods work,” she added.

The city had made mistakes with rezonings in the past and lacked any real sense of mixed-use zoning, she said, necessitating new thinking about density and design. “I think there was real openness and excitement at [the Department of] City Planning and at [the Economic Development Corporation] and other places to do that, particularly because there had been 12 years of a very particular kind of planning director and design, not saying good or bad but it was a good opportunity to step back and say, huh?”

And she employed her approach in areas around the Queens waterfront, at places like the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Brooklyn Army Terminal, and the Bush Terminal (now known as Industry City) in Sunset Park. These projects have aimed to revive old and out-of-use public assets -- particularly three massive geographic areas in Brooklyn -- and work with private companies to create thousands of jobs by encouraging new manufacturing and commercial uses in hubs of economic activity. Then, look at building housing around the edges of those areas.

Kathy Wylde, president and CEO of the Partnership for New York City, a leading business group, had particular praise for the city’s investment in Brooklyn Navy Yard, which she called “arguably the best economic development project in the country.”

“At the Brooklyn Navy Yard, you've got a whole advanced manufacturing industry cluster that didn't exist before that has an impact throughout the city, where companies from throughout the city are partnering with them, whether it's the forefront of 3D robotics, AI, the Internet of Things. That's all happening at the Brooklyn Navy Yard,” Wylde said.

“That’s been our five-borough economy plan. You want to preserve these really great and unique spaces like the Brooklyn Navy Yard, like Brooklyn Army Terminal, like the Bush Terminal, like some of the other industrial parks but make sure that what’s going on there isn’t too limited so you can really ensure job intensification,” Glen said, also referencing projects in the Bronx and Queens. “So then again you don’t have a hub-and-spoke economy anymore. You want people to work and live in multiple mixed-use communities.”

Vishaan Chakrabarti, an architect and former city planner under Mayor Bloomberg, said Glen’s “chunky and funky” building approach moved towards the diversification of office space and encouraged, especially in many of those projects in Brooklyn, the creation of what he calls “com-dustrial space that basically is a kind of a bridge-building between what's traditionally understood to be commercial space, and industrial or light manufacturing space.”

“And I think Alicia was very focused on that, because that's about diversification of the economy, it's about creating a broader range of jobs for the city of New York,” he said.

Other projects with similar goals include the Early-Stage Life Sciences funding initiative, a $150-million public-private partnership meant to launch a number of ventures by next year to spur growth of the life sciences industry in the city, and the 21-story Union Square Tech Training Center, where construction began earlier this month.

Dulchin of ANHD has a different take. “The problem with the Bloomberg administration’s approach to economic development was that it almost exclusively privileged creating high-paying professional level jobs and exacerbated the economic divide in the city. And the de Blasio approach has not been different enough,” he said. Advocates like Dulchin want more investment in promised but stalled job training programs that will benefit people from New York City who went through the city’s schools and perhaps public higher education, but need skills for middle-income jobs.

A crucial project, perhaps the most complicated that Glen negotiated, was the East Midtown rezoning, aimed at upgrading office stock in a crumbling 78-block section of Manhattan with ample opportunity and need for growth, particularly in terms of modern office space. It had failed under the Bloomberg administration but Glen got it over the finish line by finagling a deal that allows landmarked buildings to sell air rights, and mandates that developers make improvements to public transit and outdoor space.

“I witnessed up close her navigating the Midtown East rezoning through the political and urban planning, and economic environments,” said Mary Ann Tighe, CEO of the New York Tri-State Region for CBRE, a commercial real estate services firm and chair emeritus of the Real Estate Board of New York. “It had to serve a lot of different purposes. And sometimes, when you try to make real estate serve too many purposes, you end up with something that's a watered down version of what it should be. And in fact, I think she not only got a great outcome for the community, but I think she ended up doing something that is really important for the business community, and the commercial real estate owners of Midtown. She managed to make all our constituents come out ahead. How often do you see that happen?”

There are, of course, a number of both flashy and more muted projects that were achieved under Glen’s tenure. A conspicuous example is One Vanderbilt, a gleaming 73-story glass tower being constructed on the corner of 42nd Street and Vanderbilt Avenue and set to be completed next year, right near where projects born of the East Midtown rezoning will soon proliferate.

There are the two apartment buildings in the Pier 6 development in Brooklyn, which include affordable housing and provide revenue for Brooklyn Bridge Park. “So not only do we have affordable housing in the fanciest, nicest part of New York City, Brooklyn Bridge Park is financially sustainable now in perpetuity. How about that for a victory?,” Glen said.

There’s the far-less remarked upon Landing Road Residence in the Bronx, which marries affordable housing with shelter for homeless people in the same building, using federal subsidies that would normally go to hotel rooms to place homeless people. “How about that as an unbelievable legacy?,” Glen asks. “And that building is up and gorgeous. That’s the only one in the country that’s ever been done and we’re going to do more of them. I’ve been working on that for 10 years. I’ve been trying to figure out how to leverage homeless housing subsidies to cross-subsidize affordable housing and we did it. So what are the critics gonna say about that?”

She rattles off a number of other initiatives. Funding the Delacorte Theater and the Lasker Rink in Central Park. The Universal Hip Hop Museum and the Hunts Point Food Market in the Bronx. The Garment District rezoning in Manhattan.

“The Lower Concourse deal in the Bronx, that’s gonna be a real game-changer because a lot of the other stuff that’s happening along the Bronx waterfront is a lot of market rate stuff, guys speculating,” she said. “But I said wow, the Lower Concourse project is really an opportunity for us to put our stamp on what we think mixed-income, mixed-use looks like.”

“Let’s just say that the hip hop museum’s going to be really great, but it’s not exactly the most profitable use on the planet, but we made those choices,” she said. “This is about community and what it looks like and what neighborhoods look like and celebrating the diversity of neighborhoods.”

Taking Transit Chances
It was Glen who thought of launching the city’s new ferry service, which now connects a variety of stops on several routes around the city’s waterfront, from Rockaway in Queens all the way to Soundview in the Bronx. It’s been popular, and is, as de Blasio likes to say, largely a whole new system of moving groups of people, but it has its fair share of criticism.

Though the mayor has pitched it as a “mass transit” alternative, it has relatively low ridership numbers and, according to estimates from the nonpartisan Citizens Budget Commission, the subsidy for each rider fare is currently $10.73, and could be as much as $24.75 for a new route between Downtown Manhattan and Coney Island. There are also concerns that the system is a vehicle for economic development along waterfront communities – notably, it is run by the Economic Development Corporation rather than the Department of Transportation – that will be a government-funded boon for real estate developers friendly with de Blasio and Glen.

While there are questions about the choice to focus on a ferry network, the subsidies, and the beneficiaries, there is no doubt that the system is also a key part of the Glen legacy on the physical landscape of the city.

“The ferries are going to be among the most visible things that you're going to see from her legacy,” said Chakrabarti. “And I know, they're controversial because of the subsidy levels, but you know, that's an age-old debate. All mass transit requires some form of subsidy...In order to expand the playing field, you've really got to change the way transit works. So by standing up a ferry system, expanding the Citi Bike network, that gives you far broader opportunities in terms of where new affordable housing can go, and where new jobs can go.”

Weisbrod said, “I think that was a very bold move. We are a waterfront city...and launching a citywide ferry system is no mean feat. I hope it becomes part of our transportation network for now permanently.”

Criticisms notwithstanding, within the next two years, there will be new ferry stops added to the system by expanding to Throggs Neck in the Bronx, connecting St. George on Staten Island with the west side of Manhattan, and linking Coney Island with Wall Street.

Glen also advanced the idea of a new streetcar running along waterfront communities between Brooklyn and Queens. Though the proposed $2.7 billion Brooklyn-Queens Connector (BQX), first announced by de Blasio in his 2016 State of the City speech, has only moved in fits and starts, she’s confident that the project will eventually be a reality, even if it is delayed past its original timeline and now requires federal funding under revamped city plans.

The streetcar is also under the auspices of EDC, which moved ahead with the environmental review process for the project in April. That review is a precursor to the longer land use review procedure, which will likely be a far more complicated battle. But if it moves ahead, the BQX will eventually be a major new feature in the city landscape, and, if successful, could lead to other streetcar routes around the city. If those are built based on Glen’s BQX plan, the city’s streetcar system would be traced to her legacy.

Along with worries about its cost, there are also questions that the streetcar is redundant, considering existing subway and bus lines that run along the proposed route, and that one method used to finance its construction – capturing a slice of increased property taxes in its immediate vicinity – is tied to speeding along gentrification and more of a boost to real estate owners and developers than the commuting public. Concerns have also been raised about the BQX being added in areas prone to flooding.

Another piece of the Glen-de Blasio approach to expanding the transit network, is more bike share. It was in her time at Goldman Sachs just prior to joining the de Blasio administration that Glen first put together the funding for the Citi Bike deal, which created the first bike-share program in the city. Citi Bike docking stations are already major new features of the city’s physical landscape in any neighborhoods, as are the blue bikes dotting city roadways and bridges on many days.

Glen saw it as more than just a transportation alternative; like the subsequent ferry and BQX plans, it was also meant to spur economic growth and create jobs. After its launch in 2013, the bike network has expanded to more than 12,000 bikes with 750 stations located across the city.

In July, the city announced a massive planned expansion of the system, making 40,000 bikes available by 2023. By next year, there will finally be stations installed in the Bronx, while an expansion is underway further into Brooklyn and Queens. This was just after the program faced intense criticism: a report commissioned by New York Communities for Change and conducted by McGill University’s School of Urban Planning found that it currently disproportionately serves richer, whiter neighborhoods while ignoring low-income communities of color and transit deserts.

Women and What’s Next
Another economic development initiative with a physical manifestation that Glen launched is, a mostly online resource center aimed at empowering women. Under its banner, Glen created She Built NYC, the campaign to install statues dedicated to women, especially important historical figures, and address the vast imbalance of those physical memorials across the city (of the 150 statues in public spaces across the city, only five are of women).

The first of those statues, of Brooklyn’s Shirley Chisholm, the first African-American woman elected to Congress, will be erected in Prospect Park. Six others have also been announced – to be completed by 2022 – with the ultimate goal that 50% of all city statues represent women.

“The way you experience the world as a woman is very much informed by the built environment,” Glen said, recounting an anecdote about walking past a building with a construction sign that read, “Danger! Men Working Above.”

“And it took me a second to realize, why did I think that was so weird. I’ll tell you why that’s so weird. So what, women don’t know how to wash a f***ing window? Women can’t be dangerous and working above?” she said. “How do think that feels? How do you think that feels to be in the completely marginalized 51% of this city where almost every signal in the built environment is about men? So I’m having none of it.”

It’s why she believes the press has been tougher on her and other women. “I think you’re all incredibly biased about the way you cover women. I think women who are opinionated and powerful and trying to push something through are demonized,” she said. “And I think it’s a really holistic problem. That’s why I did, it’s why we have to have women, women, women, women, women, women everywhere. Not one and done.”

She even left her stamp on Hudson Yards, a project that began under the Bloomberg administration and she has criticized (“It's not my personal favorite place. It's not a 'neighborhood' as they are characterizing it.”). Glen helped rename the public park at the development in honor of Bella Abzug, the former U.S. Representative and leader of the women’s rights movement.

In her new role at the Trust for Governors Island, Glen intends to continue that work. “I would certainly think that our public art and our statuary on Governor’s Island will certainly have a women’s bent,” she said. And that’s where she thinks a gondola from lower Manhattan could go.

Glen has also said she’ll continue working on She Built NYC and in the months and years ahead, though some of that involvement may depend on what exactly she does next, after some time off (she hasn’t ruled out a run for mayor in the 2021 election, telling Gotham Gazette, "this town needs a woman mayor").

Glen said she wants to continue to be involved in the giant redevelopment envisioned at Sunnyside Yard in Queens, a project that she put into motion.

“People learned a lot of things from Battery Park City, learned something about the good and bad with the way that Roosevelt Island, Hudson Yards were done. To me, Sunnyside Yard is an opportunity to do large-scale planning with a mix of uses. It’s much more inclusive,” she said. In past interviews, she’s drawn a distinction with the more “male” architecture of Hudson Yards, something she’d avoid in Sunnyside. “Yeah, I’m not interested in having a lot of phallic symbols all around a statue that looks like a uterus,” she said, referring to the Vessel that sits at the center of the supertalls at Hudson Yards. “To me, that’s not really where I would go with this if I were running this town.”

Glen has few regrets about her time in the de Blasio administration. Though the vaunted Amazon deal fell through, and with it a massive Queens campus with 25,000 promised jobs and billions in expected revenue, she chalked it up to the tech firm’s mistakes rather than the administration’s. “I got it under my belt,” she said matter-of-factly of the deal.

The one failed land use deal that does continue to bother her is the site of the Long Island College Hospital, which is now on its way to becoming as-of-right market-rate luxury condos without affordable housing (at a site key to de Blasio’s 2013 mayoral campaign), which she blames on opposition from City Council Member Brad Lander, who represents the district. “I’m really mad about LICH, I think that was a huge lost opportunity. I’m really mad about some of the local politics,” she said, echoing a previous point she’s made that led to a testy exchange with Lander.

More broadly, Glen said she worries the city is headed in an anti-growth direction that could be harmful. “What’s keeping me up at night right now is this sort of swing to equating all development with this very negative connotation around gentrification,” she said. “What keeps me up at night is that a small majority of people could overly influence an agenda that starts to bake in anti-growth.”

This is part two of a two-part series on former Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen's impact on the "built environment" of New York City. Jump to part one here.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Assessing Alicia Glen's Impact on the City's Physical Landscape - Part II: 'Chunky and Funky' Thu, 15 Aug 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Assessing Alicia Glen's Impact on the City’s Physical Space - Part I: 'We have completely changed the housing landscape' Alicia Glen

Alicia Glen (photo: Paige Polk/Mayor's Office)

This is part one of a two-part series on former Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen's impact on the "built environment" of New York City. Find part two -- on economic development, transit, and more -- here.

It’s the year 2026 in New York City. Hundreds of thousands of new units of rent-restricted apartments have been added to the city’s housing stock as the population continues to grow. Ferry boats cruise in the East River and on the Hudson. Gleaming office buildings rise in East Midtown. Downtown Far Rockaway is bustling. Construction of an entirely new neighborhood at Sunnyside Yard in Queens is well underway. Formerly decrepit industrial spaces along the Brooklyn waterfront house light manufacturing companies alongside co-working spaces, retail stores, and commercial businesses. A statue of Shirley Chisholm stands in Prospect Park. And perhaps, a gondola links the city’s financial center with the former military base on Governors Island.

This is the future Alicia Glen wants, the future for New York City -- where she was recently Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development -- that Glen designed. Rent-regulated apartments, ferry landings, modern midtown office space, a film production campus, monuments to female historical figures – they are all physical manifestations of the massive portfolio that Glen was given, crafted, and ran for nearly five-and-a-half years under Mayor Bill de Blasio before stepping down in March.

“I’m a built-environment person,” said Glen, in a recent hour-long interview at a coffee shop in Chelsea. “I’m a born-and-bred New Yorker and I’ve been working in the built environment and community development and real estate my whole life.”

A former Goldman Sachs executive, where she led the Urban Investment Group, who also worked in city government in the 1980s and ‘90s, Glen spearheaded the city’s affordable housing program, neighborhood rezonings, job-creation efforts, new ferry system, and planned light rail project; oversaw the city’s public housing authority and public parks department; and led the launch of an initiative to create monuments to prominent women; among a myriad of other duties.

The policies and projects that Glen initiated are already transforming the physical landscape of the city, and will continue to do so for generations to come, as is the case with each mayoral administration and the “built environment” legacy of its chief executive and top deputy for the elements of her portfolio.

As with the Bloomberg administration and other predecessors, many of Glen’s contributions will only be seen and gauged over time. The Bloomberg era saw almost 40% of the city rezoned, meaning new land use rules were adopted, often to spur more development, and brought sweeping changes to the city’s skyline. It gave the city the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, Hudson Yards in Manhattan, and Cornell Tech on Roosevelt Island, the latter two of which didn’t see a grand opening till well after Bloomberg was out of office.

A born-and-raised New Yorker and overtly optimistic if at times sharp-tongued booster for New York City, Glen prides herself on what she believes is a transformational record, to be fully revealed over decades, even if it comes with its share of critics and naysayers.

The housing plan may have the largest “affordable” units goal in city history, but critics say it doesn’t do nearly enough for those at lower incomes and people experiencing homelessness. The New York City Housing Authority’s operating budget may have been stabilized, but a deep backlog for maintenance and repairs remains, and a lead paint scandal erupted on her watch. The ferry system may be a new transit alternative for waterfront communities and millions of annual riders, but it’s heavily subsidized, serves a more affluent crowd than other “mass transit” options, and isn’t linked to the MTA fare system.

Glen was brought into the administration to translate de Blasio’s vision of equity into programmatic and built reality, blending her perspective as a builder and a real estate executive with the mayor’s socioeconomic mission, which she largely appears to share as a self-professed Upper West Side liberal. Much of the de Blasio-Glen model followed both of their prior work, leveraging the private market for public good; utilizing public space to broad economic benefit; taking a “balanced” approach to policy to keep developers in the game, businesses in the city, and the middle class in affordable homes.

To some critics, their pro-growth policies and strategic decisions -- from which neighborhoods they rezoned to launching the ferry program -- seemed to contradict the “tale of two cities” rhetoric that got de Blasio elected to office. Many on the left who were hopeful about de Blasio’s tenure use his appointment of Glen, and her Goldman Sachs background, as emblematic of a mayoralty far more moderate than envisioned and far too cozy with big real estate developers.

The de Blasio-Glen approach put into place a framework for long-term inclusive growth, some say, that eschews the grand, glitzy legacy projects for many inflection points toward a more fair and equitable city. “A lot of what I understood her to do was actually not necessarily something that would be superficially magnificent, but really was thought out right and it will have this lasting impact,” said Rachel Meltzer, chair of the urban policy program at the Milano School of Policy, Management, and Environment at the New School. “Because it is about how you integrate some of this stuff so that it becomes part of how the city works and operates...In that regard, I would hope it would be long-lasting. I think that's a smart approach.”

Glen explained that she was given immense responsibility, and leeway, by de Blasio to advance her vision.

“You have to remember, I was handed over a third of the government in a day, OK? And also the mayor, and I think he’d be the first person to admit this, he is not a person who focuses on the built environment,” Glen said. “That has never been his interest. I mean, he’s always been pro-development and thoughtful about development and the built environment, but he would always say he is much more interested in policy, service issues, education, however you characterize all that...One of the reasons why he chose me, and…we were very simpatico, was because I’m a person who has a track record of actually building things and getting things done in the built environment.”

Affordable Housing, Development & Neighborhood Change
One of the most prominent aspects of Glen’s legacy is the massive de Blasio “affordable housing” program that she took the lead in designing and implementing. The plan originally aimed to create or preserve 200,000 units of rent-regulated housing by 2024. It has been retooled twice, first to target more low-income housing and later expanded to a goal of 300,000 units by 2026. (Glen’s successor as deputy mayor, Vicki Been, formerly the housing commissioner under Glen, is expected to announce another new iteration of the plan in the coming months.)

In January, the administration announced that had already put $5.05 billion directly into the housing plan, and another $8.12 billion in bond financing; money that helps subsidize and incentivize the building and preservation of rent-capped units, which are available to tenants with a wide variety of incomes depending on individual city deals with landlords and developers.

On July 30, the city announced that it financed 25,299 affordable housing units in the just-completed 2019 fiscal year, meeting the annual goal but a drop from the 32,244 affordable homes that were financed in the previous fiscal year. The city said, though, that a record amount of housing was financed for the most vulnerable residents – homeless people, seniors, and those who need supportive services – part of a developing response to ongoing criticism about the plan’s designs.

According to the latest numbers from the city, the de Blasio administration has over five-plus years so far funded 43,930 new “affordable” (meaning rent-regulated in some way, though thresholds vary widely) homes and preserved another existing 91,507 “affordable” units into longer-term regulation, for a total of 135,437. In comparison, the Bloomberg administration built and preserved 165,000 “affordable” units over his 12 years in office.

But to the lay New Yorker, the affordable housing program isn’t always conspicuous. “I think some of Alicia's most important legacies may be somewhat invisible,” said Vishaan Chakrabarti, associate professor of practice at Columbia GSAPP, founder of the Practice for Architecture and Urbanism, and a former city planner under Bloomberg. “Housing preservation...that's a policy issue where you don't really see the physical legacy as much as her extension of the Citi Bike network. A lot of these things, I think, are issues that are going to be hard to see even though I think it's a very impactful legacy.”

Glen said she came into her job aiming to avoid “endless analysis paralysis” and to obtain actionable results. “I was very clear that I wanted to have really concrete measurable impacts so that New Yorkers today and New Yorkers of the future can be like, ‘yeah, we’ve changed the blueprint of New York City,’ and that’s what I set out to do and I would argue we did it,” she said in discussing the affordable housing program.

The first major step in achieving that goal was wonky and technical, but essential -- the passage of two amendments to the city’s land use laws: Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) and Zoning for Quality and Affordability (ZQA). Under MIH, the new regulations mandated that developers seeking to build taller, denser buildings than existing zoning allows -- thus in need of city approval to do so -- would have to include a certain percentage of units at specified caps on the rent. Importantly, this would also apply to rezoned neighborhoods, where the city changes land use rules for a larger geographic area than when, in most cases, a developer seeks a zoning change for a specific plot of land.

ZQA updated zoning and building design standards to encourage the creation of affordable senior housing and mixed-income housing, and to promote the growth of commercial and retail space.

The zoning changes allowed the city, under Glen’s leadership, to pursue rezonings in several neighborhoods targeted for greater housing density, as well as new retail space, park land, school seats, and other varied built-environment additions. The first of those was approved in East New York in April 2016, followed later by rezonings in Downtown Far Rockaway and East Harlem in 2017, and then the Jerome Avenue Corridor in the Bronx and part of Inwood in 2018.

Each of the rezonings will have significant long-term influence over what the neighborhoods involved look like, the make-up, functionality, and benefits of specific communities across the city. But while each also clearly offers certain community upgrades and potential for more, they also come with questions around enticing or accelerating gentrification, and whether communities of color are mainly those expected to welcome increased density as the city grows.

The East New York rezoning covered three main corridors: Atlantic Avenue, with a stretch of semi-industrial businesses but few residences; Fulton Street, a shopping corridor with two- to four-story buildings with stores and housing; and Pitkin Avenue, which contains two- to four- story residential buildings. Low-scale row-houses, semi-detached homes and small apartment buildings line the side streets. Under the rezoning, the character of those side streets will be preserved, while allowing mixed-use growth along the main corridors, including rent-restricted and mixed-income housing, moderate density industrial growth, and new retail and commercial space. That will mean taller buildings with new retail or community facilities on the ground floor: 6-8 story buildings on Liberty Avenue and Fulton Street; 8-10 story buildings on Pitkin; and 12-14 story buildings on Atlantic Avenue. And new residential development where earlier only manufacturing facilities could be located.

In East Harlem, the rezoning was meant to stave off market-rate development that threatened to accelerate displacement of existing residents already happening in the gentrifying neighborhood. The final plan established limits on building heights and density (owing to the City Council) while expanding residential development and promoting new commercial and industrial space.

On the Jerome Avenue corridor in the Bronx, a slew of development is expected to take place, most of which will be mandated to include affordable housing. There’s the 14-story building at 1331 Jerome Avenue, with 255 units, including supportive housing. There’s the 17-story mixed-use building at Jerome Court, with 63,000 square feet of residential space, 52,000 square feet of community facility space, and 7,500 square feet of commercial space.

Similarly, in Downtown Far Rockaway, the city is financing several projects that will lead to mixed-income and affordable housing, while also creating new commercial and public spaces. At 1414 Central Avenue, construction has begun on 140 new units of affordable housing, 2,500 square feet of commercial space, and a new building to house the Community Church of the Nazarene. The city has also engaged the nonprofit developer Phipps Houses to redevelop Far Rockaway Village, to replace a shopping center with 450 units of affordable housing, 92,000 square feet of commercial space, and 23,000 square feet of public space. Another developer, The Community Builders, will create 224 units of affordable housing on a city-owned site, as well as 24,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space and 8,000 square feet of community space.

“I think it's something that's really not only the envy of other cities in the United States, but other places around the world, which are all struggling with the issue of affordable housing,” said Carl Weisbrod, the former head of the Department of City Planning and currently senior advisor at HR&A Advisors, of the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing policy. “Most successful cities are struggling with that issue,” said Weisbrod, who worked closely with Glen on many issues and projects, including the passage of MIH.

“I think that the housing program is just so large and central to the city's future, that that will be the centerpiece and a lot of these other accomplishments will help support that legacy,” Weisbrod added.

While each of those rezonings was focused on creating and preserving thousands of units of new affordable housing, they also came with a spate of prominent community, economic development, and infrastructure investments. In East New York, the city has already broken ground on a new 1,000-seat school, begun work on park expansions and new playground sites, and landmarked the Empire State Dairy Building.

In Downtown Far Rockaway, a new two-story 18,000-square-foot library is being built. The Jerome Avenue corridor will have two new elementary schools serving over 1,000 children, and new parks and playgrounds as well. Inwood will receive a library with a new universal pre-kindergarten facility, a youth STEM education center, a cultural and job training center, and two new waterfront parks.

The housing plan and the rezonings undertaken to help achieve it have earned de Blasio and Glen a significant amount of both praise and criticism.

Most of the criticism has come from the left, saying that the self-described progressive mayor has not really had a truly progressive approach to housing development. While some favor the new rules that make it obligatory for developers to build affordable housing, others say that rezonings have exacerbated gentrification and displacement in low-income communities of color and that the housing program does not sufficiently address the lowest-income New Yorkers, including many of the existing residents of the rezoned areas.

While some want to see more housing density in wealthier, whiter neighborhoods, others believe de Blasio and Glen have been too pro-development in general.

“I think the ramifications of Alicia Glen's impact on the city are going to be felt for decades to come, in a very similar way that, you know, how Robert Moses reshaped the city of New York and not in a good way,” said Jonathan Westin, executive director of New York Communities for Change. “Her policies to rezone low-income neighborhoods in New York City to allow developers to build luxury condo towers and unaffordable apartments for everyday New Yorkers is going to have lasting, lasting impact of displacing people of color and communities of color across the city, and I think it's going to actually further segregation across the entire region.”

Glen has faced the Moses comparison before, though she somewhat embraces it. “Well I’ve always said, that’s a complicated topic,” she said. “Someone once joked to me, ‘What do you think you’re Roberta Moses?’ Well sure If I can be a better, kinder, gentler, more inclusive, feminist city builder, yeah I’ll take that. Put that on a t-shirt. That’s fine.”

Westin said the focus on community rezonings effectively threw gasoline on the city’s gentrification crisis. He insisted the administration should have instead worked to sculpt smaller rezonings to maximize affordability and to ensure that housing goes to the families living in those neighborhoods. The result of the current approach? “Communities will definitely get richer and whiter, but entire communities will be displaced. East New York will not be East New York in ten years. A lot of those families will be gone. I think the same is true of Harlem and the same is true of the Bronx,” he said.

“You know what, in ten years, when you go to those neighborhoods, in the old days, sure you’d see development there but you wouldn’t see any sort of comprehensive neighborhood infrastructure being done because that wasn’t the way the city was doing business,” Glen said of such criticism. “So yeah, I feel pretty good about the fact that when I walk down the street, I see a lot of new buildings going up. There’s affordable housing in those buildings. That didn’t use to be the case. That’s not visible to the human eye but I know what I did and the brutal battles that we took on to get MIH, to get 421-a done. I didn’t sleep for six months. I mean, totally worth it.”

“We have completely changed the housing landscape in New York City in the most radical way,” she said of changes to the zoning code, “which is what’s allowing all the radicals to say it’s not good enough. So that’s great.”

Benjamin Dulchin, executive director of the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development, is more ambivalent, noting that the effects of the rezonings may not be known for years. MIH, he said, created “the strongest-in-the-nation floor for what the private sector’s obligation is to affordable housing when the city upzones. And so that was really an important step that she played a key role in.”

But he noted the concerns about the neighborhoods the administration chose, where displacement pressures already exist. “The way that they have focused on rezoning as a way of harnessing market forces may do more harm than good,” he said, cautiously.

Glen is not defensive, but rather defiant and self-assured in the face of critics. “We broke every record since records have been kept, and there are hundreds of amazing projects that are now fully occupied or out of the ground,” she said.

She continued: “I think that the vast majority of people, the real issue is, even with everything we’ve done, it’s not enough. Right? And that’s a true statement, sure. But what’s the alternative? To do nothing? To not try to make a big dent? So that’s why, yeah sure, we need more affordable housing. OK. I challenge anybody to tell me how you can do more and leverage resources and do anything at scale that we haven’t been able to do. I challenge anybody.”

She conceded that it’s a “fair position to take, that everything should be for the lowest income people, every dollar should be putting into serving the lowest,” but she disagrees with the notion.

“It’s everything we fought against. Everything we learned about the mistakes of the ‘60s and ‘70s where people were really stigmatized and very low-income people were crowded together,” she continued. “Most social scientists and urban economists and urban thinkers would agree that real mixed-income buildings and neighborhoods are much healthier ecosystems. The buildings themselves are healthier and certainly neighborhoods are healthier. So I’ve never believed...that the city’s sole role in development and housing is to serve only the lowest income. I just disagree with that philosophically, as does the mayor.”

“I think her primary legacy is really accelerating the process of gentrification and overdevelopment in New York, running roughshod over the wishes of local communities, and helping to turn City Hall into a pay-for-play revolving door for lobbyists and real estate interests,” said Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, in a phone interview.

Berman has particular contempt for the administration’s record on historic preservation. “This has been one of the most preservation-unfriendly administrations in New York City in a very, very long time,” he said. “The only time the administration seems to show any interest in landmarks is when they can come up with a way for them to sell air-rights in order to increase the size of development in surrounding areas, sometimes at the expense of other landmarks.”

For preservationists like Berman, Glen had a rebuttal ready. “We landmarked more buildings in five years than the entire Bloomberg administration did in 12 years. So I don’t know what they’re complaining about,” she said. While Glen's point about a better record on landmarking than Bloomberg was correct, her timeframe was not. In de Blasio's first term, the city landmarked more buildings and sites than any other mayor in their first term other than Ed Koch. And in an apples-to-apples comparison with Bloomberg's administration, at this point in de Blasio's tenure, his administration has landmarked about 4,988 buildings and sites, 45% more than the 2,248 that Bloomberg did in the same time, according to a spokesperson for the Landmarks Preservation Commission. 

“I’m not worried about being unpopular,” Glen said at one point in the interview, “because it’s not junior high school and I’m not running for prom queen. Everything I’ve ever done has been about doing something that’s good for New York. That’s been my only agenda, what other agenda could I have had. Why would I have given up all these other jobs?”

When it comes to the complicated issue of public housing, Glen’s legacy is far more shrouded. She inherited problems at the authority -- which she is quick to remind is under federal and state auspices, as well as city control -- that had been decades in the making but seemed to reach their zenith under the de Blasio administration. While she is not as readily associated with NYCHA, perhaps because it is an authority rather than a city agency, than her signature plans and projects, Glen acknowledges NYCHA was under her purview, wants credit for some of what has gone right there over the last five-plus years, and knows the crises are immense.

NYCHA faced a nearly $17 billion capital need in 2011, but that quickly grew to about $32 billion last year. Through various tools, including by turning over developments to private management, the administration has a plan to cover about $24 billion of that need, but it was only launched in December 2018, an updated version of a 2015 NYCHA plan Glen helped design.

Despite their putting more emphasis on and resources into NYCHA than their predecessors, conditions for the authority’s residents continued to be plagued. Major problems and scandals with basic building maintenance, crumbling roofs, lead paint, elevator breakdowns, heat and hot water outages, and more have made NYCHA a blight on the de Blasio-Glen record, even if those problems have been decades in the making and federal and state aid have been extremely limited.

Glen is hopeful that key elements of the NYCHA 2.0 plan, including new private housing development on underutilized NYCHA land that will provide revenue for the authority, will bear fruit.

This is part one of a two-part series on former Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen's impact on the "built environment" in New York City. Read part two -- dealing with economic development, transit, and more -- here.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note - This article has been updated to note that Glen's comments on the de Blasio administration's preservation record compared to the Bloomberg administration were not entirely accurate. Additional context has also been provided.  

Assessing Alicia Glen's Impact on the City’s Physical Space - Part I: 'We have completely changed the housing landscape' Wed, 14 Aug 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Connecting Astoria and the Upper East Side: A No-Brainer for NYC Ferry ferry ship downt

(photo: @NYCferry)

Thanks to New York City’s investment in a brand-new citywide ferry network, waterfront communities are flourishing with shorter and smoother commutes and a wave of economic activity.

Serving close to 10 million riders since launching in May 2017, NYC Ferry has almost single-handedly opened the Astoria neighborhood to the rest of New York City, doubling the annual attendance at many of our attractions and cultural institutions like Socrates Sculpture Park and the Welling Court Mural Project, providing Queens residents with reliable and efficient ferry service across the City’s waterways.

One of the most attractive aspects of a ferry service, unlike other large transportation infrastructure projects, is its ability to be nimble. The routes can be adjusted to accommodate a changing workforce and development landscape. The more connections, the better, as access to transit options improves overall quality of life, which is why we hope the city will throw a ferry life line directly from Astoria to the Upper East Side.

A distance equivalent to three, short city blocks lies between the Astoria landing in Halletts Cove and the East 90th Street landing across the East River on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, but currently no direct NYC Ferry connection exists. Both sides of the river have advocated for a ferry connection, which is an easy fix, as the infrastructure exists at both landings.

This has been brought to the attention of the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC), which is not planning to consider new, additional routes until 2021. However, this isn’t a new route. It’s merely a new logical and necessary connection.

EDC should recognize that with a simple green light, millions of New Yorkers will have a less than five-minute connection between Astoria and the Upper East Side, saving in excess of a 45-minute headache-inducing, subway-plus-bus commute. The connection would reduce the number of cars sitting in traffic on local streets, as well as enable easy access to the heralded Second Avenue Subway, allowing businesses to prosper, and spur additional growth.

Connecting the two sides of the river would bring about cultural and employment benefits, including easier access to work opportunities, particularly at the East Side hospitals and educational institutions, and will enhance recreational opportunities for people throughout the boroughs. A connection to the Upper East Side would also be welcomed with fanfare from the locals of Roosevelt Island and the growing tech community at Cornell.

We urge the City to approve the connection so New Yorkers can hop on board and enjoy smooth sailing, short commutes, and maximize the benefits for our residents and communities. It only makes sense to bridge the boroughs, which will quicken travel time and lessen traffic, leading to a happier and healthier New York City.

Tom Grech, President & Chief Executive Officer, Queens Chamber of Commerce. On Twitter @tomgrech.

Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email

Connecting Astoria and the Upper East Side: A No-Brainer for NYC Ferry Mon, 08 Jul 2019 04:00:00 +0000
What’s The [Data] Point? $3.2 Billion, with James Patchett whats the data point

What's The Data Point? Episode 26 -- $3.2 Billion, with James Patchett [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

patchett and ben

James Patchett is the President and CEO of the New York City Economic Development Corporation, the city's nonprofit arm dedicated to spurring job and industry growth, managing special projects, and implementing certain infrastructure projects. Patchett joined the podcast to discuss the City's development strategy, tax breaks, NYC Ferry, and the BQX streetcar project, and to respond to a new Citizens Budget Commission report evaluating the City's approach to economic development.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (@TweetBenMax), Maria Doulis of CBC (@MariaDoulis), and guest James Patchett (@jbpatchett) of the Economic Development Corporation (@NYCEDC). Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

What’s The [Data] Point? $3.2 Billion, with James Patchett Fri, 12 Jan 2018 05:00:00 +0000